We’ve always loved the ability of comedians to say irreverent things and push boundaries. From Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy and beyond, we’ve cracked up on jokes that articulated things we’d never say in our normal lives. But what about when we think comedians go too far? That’s their job, right? To push the boundaries? Sure it is, but we get to push back and assert our boundaries too.
This week D.L. Hughley has come under fire for comments he made last week on the radio about actor Columbus Short’s wife and her reported allegations of abuse, which were made in her legal petition for divorce and a restraining order. I won’t repeat here the words that Hughley used to describe Tanee McCall-Short because, to me, no matter what lens we look at it through, they feel way too hateful. (All previously available audio has been pulled.) But suffice it to say that he called into question not only the veracity of her claims but also her character and worth. All in comparison to Short, who seemingly got the benefit of the doubt because (a) he was male and (b) he had been on a successful show (Scandal). Therefore she must be scrambling to tear him apart.
Hughley issued an apology today:
“Last week during an after-show segment of my radio show, The D.L. Hughley Show, I unintentionally offended some people.
"In regards to Columbus Short’s legal issues, I jumped to a conclusion and blamed Tanee McCall-Short; and I’m sorry. My intent was not to quiet victims.
"When I did speak of the topic on air, I repeatedly emphasized then, and as I do now, that anyone who is convicted of domestic violence, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; and that is what I believe.”
It definitely behooved him to clarify that he does not, in fact, espouse domestic violence in any form. I could argue that the apology doesn’t jibe with some of the statements said to have aired on the show, in which he seemed not to care if the allegations were true. (“I think that broad shouldn’t be telling all his business if she gone take him to court,” said Hughley.)
But why don't we just talk about the extremely disparaging language used against this woman? A woman who has given no reason for anyone to doubt her legal claim and as such, could potentially be a victim. No need to apologize for the vicious characterization there?
In our fast-paced social media world, many of us have gotten used to “taking sides” when celebrity relationship drama hits the news, bringing our own world views and personal histories to our opinions of who is in the right. But can't we all agree that it's distasteful or just plain wrong to risk possibly re-victimizing someone who has suffered an abuse?
Hughley’s apology would have been easier to accept and move on from if he didn’t have a history of coming hard against women. Black women in particular. From piggybacking on the Don Imus/Rutgers women’s basketball team controversy to make a joke about Black women while defending Imus' freedom of speech to saying that he'd "never met an angrier group of people" in reference to Black women.
We could have a whole “art shouldn’t be policed” argument and I’m there for you. That’s completely fair. We do have freedom of speech. He can say whatever he likes. But so can we. We as women, as Black women, have a right to say Enough already! We’re not okay with our sisters being verbally dismantled or having our pain marginalized. And we’re not going to stay silent about it.
Abby West (@AbbyWestNYC) is the executive editor of ESSENCE.com.